Sermon Title: “God Remembers the Poor” (Part Three)
Text: Matthew 5:3-5
Series:“Jesus, Our Righteousness”: The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)
Date:Sunday, August 19, 2018
Speaker: Pastor Joseph
Matthew 5: 2-5
“2. And he (Jesus) opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
6:20: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God.”
6:21: “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.”
6:21: “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.”
6:22: “Blessed are you when people hate you and they exclude you and revile you and spurn your names as evil, on account of the Son of Man!
What kind of poverty the text is referring to? Is it material poverty or spiritual poverty?
- 5: 3, Is the text talking about “material poverty” or “spiritual poverty”
- The Case for “Material Poverty”
When comparing this passage with Luke 6:20, one can conclude that the beatitude of Matthew 5:3 indicates “material poverty.” It is addressed toward those who are fighting the evils and predicament of (material) poverty.
What does the word oi ptochoi (“The poor”) mean or convey?
- The Greek word ptochoi, which can be translated as “the absolutely poor,” or “the miserably poor.”.
- Oi ptochoi (“The poor”)
- James Dunn helps us understand the Hebraic setting of the ptochoi in this useful observation:
Behind the Greek term ptochoi stands a number of Hebrew terms, particularly ‘aniyyim. The Hebrew terms denote material poverty in its various aspects and consequences. Of these consequences the most important were the social responsibility thereby laid upon the Israelite community (to relieve poverty) and what today would be called “God’s option for the poor.”
Who are the “poor in Spirit” in Matthew
Some writers have wrongly equated both phrases “the poor” (Matthew 11:5) and “the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3).
- Robert Mounce makes an interpretive error when he writes that ‘the poor in spirit’ are “those fully realize their spiritual poverty.”
- Warren Carter contends that “The poor in spirit…. are those who are economically poor and whose spirits or being are crushed by economic injustice.”
- T. France suggests that the ‘meek and ‘poor in spirit’ is a reference to “those who are in fact disadvantaged and powerless.”
- Elsa Tamez adds that “The poor in spirit are the poor of Yahweh, that is, they are the poor and oppressed who acknowledge their poverty, and who stand before God as poor people. In other words, they are not the kind of poor people who think, and try to live, as members of the bourgeoisie.”
- Bruce Longenecker makes the sharp distinction between “the poor in spirit” in Matthew 5:3 and “the poor” in Matthew 11:5 when he asserts that these two expressions
should not be conflated….” the poor in spirit” has a broader reference than simply economic depravity, while “the poor” generally has an economic reference as its primary reference, unless the context suggests otherwise…And in this case the context is such that a non-economic reading of “the poor” is difficult to sustain. This is because…Jesus’ words seem intended to resonate with the Isaianic narrative triumph, and in Isa 61:1 “the poor” are most likely the economically deprived, and perhaps even the economically oppressed.
- In Jesus’ beatitudes, “the poor in spirit” are clearly linked to “those who mourn,” and “the meek.” While the meek refer to those who had their lands stolen and protest against the fact (Psalms 37), the poor and those who mourn protest the presence of social evil around them (1 Cor. 5:1-2) and have no power to social and political power to alter it.
- Given the fact that the Synoptic writers and the Jesus-Movement may have lived the reality of poverty, they associate the poor and the oppressed with the blind, the lame, lepers, the deaf, and the dead (Matthew 11:4-5; Luke 14:13, 21; Mark 12:42-43). God’s kingdom and eschatological blessing upon the poor through Jesus the Messiah-Liberator, and his moral convictions “focused on and favored in a special way socially marginal groups in Israel (the poor, prostitutes, tax collectors, children, the slaves, etc.).
- Consequently, it seems exceptionally practical that Paul would continue the Jesus-Movement with a preferential option for the poor and by “remembering the poor seriously as an integral part of his apostolic mission.” Suffice it to restate this text: “They only asked us to remember the poor—the very thing I also was eager to do” (Gal. 2:10).
Poor and Poverty
- The relationship between “the poor” and “poverty” is evident
- Poverty is a social condition, and there is no poor without poverty; oppressive and systemic structures and cruel social hierarchies may lead to all kinds of oppressions including poverty as a social phenomenon. The phrase “the poor” is intimately associated with material poverty.
- In the context of Judeo-Christianity, the poor were those “who lacked a secure economic base. Like widows, orphans, and aliens, they were in an especially vulnerable position, without any means of self-protection.”
- Poverty denotes a social phenomenon and the condition of the people within it which might include suffering or misery. It also bears the idea of “limited good;” and as Malina and Rohrbauch report, poverty also meant “lack of material goods, but honor, friendship, love, power, security, and status as well—literally everything in life.” One writer makes the following remark as he reflects on the social dynamics of the Mediterranean world:
The material possession of personal and real property conveys, on the other hand, a form of power (namely, influence), but is, on the other hand, an (essential) part of the privileges that members of the upper stratum enjoy…On the basis of their considerable wealth, they could exercise power in the form of influence on leading political figures and also command their own sometimes large staffs. Furthermore, their income enabled them to lead a privileged lifestyle, which was fundamentally different from the choices open to the masses of the populace.
- Stegemann and W. Stegemann add that “the masses of the people were characterized not only by low birth and the concomitant lack of political power, but also by their poverty. For them, the struggle for material existence and the bare means of survival determined their daily work… The nature of the life of the ptochos (the absolutely poor) is to have nothing.” Dunn complements that
Material poverty left the poor vulnerable to economic exploitation. Poverty was by no means always the result of individual fecklessness or slothfulness, of natural disaster or enemy action. It was also a social condition, with social causes, often the result of greed and manipulation on the part of others. The poor were vulnerable before those members of society who controlled economic and political power, and who were willing to use that power ruthlessly. Consequently, the poor were also the downtrodden and oppressed, often pushed by circumstances to the margin of society.
Some 2016 poverty thresholds were
- “$12,486 for a single individual under age 65”
- “$14,507 a household of two people with a householder 65 years or older with no children”
- “$24,339 for a family of four with two children under age 18”
Who are the Poor?
- “For most demographic groups, the number of people in poverty decreased from 2015. Adults aged 65 and older were the only population group shown in Table 3 to experience an increase in the number of people in poverty.”
- “Between 2015 and 2016, the poverty rate for children under age 18 declined from 19.7 to 18.0 percent. The poverty rate for adults aged 18-64 declined from 12.4 to 11.6 percent. The poverty rate for adults aged 65 and older was 9.3 percent in 2016, not statistically different from the rate in 2015.”
- “In 2016 nearly 41 million people, or 13% of the population, were living in poverty – down from 15% at the height of the recession in 2010.”
- “Of those living in poverty, the 2016 figures show that there are about 13.3 million children – 18% of those under the age of 18.”
- “As the population has aged, the number of over-65s in poverty has increased to 4.6 million but, at 9%, the poverty rate is lower than for those of working age (18-64).”
- “It is this working-age group which provides perhaps the most striking picture, with nearly 23 million – or almost 12% – living in poverty.”
Nonetheless, the unequal distribution of poverty is striking:
- “Twice as many African American families are in poverty (22%) than white families”
- “19% of Hispanic families are in poverty”
- “Women (14%) are more likely to be in poverty than men (11%)”
- “Poverty rates range from 11% to 14% across large regions of the Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, and West”
- “Many counties – mainly in the Southeast and Southwest – have poverty rates of more than 25%”
“Who are the poor Americans?” By Prof Jay Shambaugh Brookings Institution
The preferential option for the poor in Matthew: the case for material poverty
- Matthew 11:5, Jesus preaches the good news to the poor.
- Matthew 19:21, Jesus orders the rich young man to distribute his possessions or wealth to the poor and the economically-disadvantaged.
- Matthew 26:9, the generous attitude of uplifting the poor through giving or donating financially, “For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.”
- Matthew 26:11, remembrance of the poor
- The Command to “Remember the Poor”
- The admonition “remember the poor” is a central focus in Pauline theology and Paul’s own understanding of the theological and practical dimensions of Jesus’ teachings and social preaching. This important phrase is first mentioned in Galatians 2:10, as Paul enunciates “They only asked us to remember the poor—the very thing I also was eager to do.” This particular Galatian text alludes to Paul’s collection activity in the Jewish Diaspora on behalf of the poor, “the miserably poor” (ptochoi) among the Christians in Jerusalem. The historical context was the devastated famine mentioned in Acts 11:27-28. The majority members of the Jerusalem early Church community were between “absolutely poor” and “relatively poor.”
- Referential texts in the four Gospels include the following Matthew 3:7-12, 11:2-6, 18-19, 26:11; Mark 2:18-20, 14:7; Luke 2:14, 7:18-23, 33-34; John 12:8
- Christians in the early Church movement came reasonably from the lower-stratum groups, were probably not property owners, and could afford also the minimum existence. The abandonment of socio-economic ties by Jesus and his followers, as well as by post-resurrection Christian communities meant participation in the fate of the poorest in Jewish and Greco-Roman society, and thus dependency on external support.
- The phrase is connected to the work of social transformation and social consciousness of the Jesus-Movement in first-century Christianity, with a special focus on the poor and the economically disadvantaged and exploited who suffered material poverty.
- For example, the story about a certain poor widow of Jerusalem is well documented in Mark 12:41-44, and Luke 21:1-4
Jesus and the Poor in the Gospels
- Jesus’ own attitude toward and relationship with the poor and the oppressed groups and, his teachings about the rich, wealth, anxiety, and poverty are reported overwhelmingly in great detail in numerous passages in the Synoptic Gospels (for example, Matt. 6:20-33; Mark 10:21-23, 14:3-9; Luke 6:20-25, 12:12:22-34, 16:13).
- His social preaching aimed at inciting social consciousness about the deplorable life condition and dehumanization of the poor and exploited majority, which was not accepted in the sight of God the Liberator.
- The author of the Gospel of Matthew reports Jesus’ response to the imprisoned John the Baptist, after he inquired about the nature of Jesus’ public ministry: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them” (Matthew 11:4-5).
- A similar passage to the Matthean text is also recorded by the author of the third Gospel, “The Theologian of the Poor,” in Luke 7:18-23. The parallel text in Luke 4:18-19 is more telling:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind and set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
- Arguably, the key phrase in the previously-referenced biblical passages (The Pauline, Lukan, and Matthean texts) is the Greek word ptochoi, which can be translated as “the absolutely poor,” or “the miserably poor.” The expression is a subject of great importance in Jesus’ manifesto, which sets the context for understanding his messianic vision and his unreserved devotion to the oppressed, the weak, and the masses in his immediate environs, instead of the noble, powerful, rich, and the esteemed.
- Jesus remembered “the poor” by preaching to them the saving good news of God’s decisive liberation from the hands of their oppressors; this divine deliverance pervades all existential realms, incorporates both social and spiritual salvation, as well as interrogates all forms of human domination. “The blind,” “the lame,” “the deaf,” the dead” (or the dying), and “the poor” were socially-deprived economic groups; they were alienated from the greater Jewish and Greco-Roman society; these group of individuals belonged to the lower social stratum.
- The poor and the oppressed were the social outcast and the disdained in the Jewish and Greco-Roman social and religious hierarchies. Not only they were a class of individuals who were unable “to maintain their inherited honor standing in society because of misfortune or the injustice of others,”
- The poor also suffered from material deprivation and economic depravity, and had substantial “needs of a variety of kinds.” The absolutely poor and those belonging to the lower social stratum shared a life in common and had a common social-political life. These people lived at or under the level of minimum and exhibited a fundamental lack of all or some of the goods necessary to achieve subsistence (food, clothing, dwelling).
Paul and the Poor
- In his corresponding letters to the Corinthians, Paul’s precise language to describe the social, economic, and political status of early Christians provides further elucidation. He informs us explicitly that the Corinthian Christians were among the despised in society (1 Cor. 1:28), were socially weak and the unknown, and among the have-nots (1 Cor. 4:10-11; 2 Cor. 6:9-10). They did not have the power, privilege, and prestige nor did they have property, political power, and influence, as these factors were characteristics of their society’s unjust system of distribution.
- Five biblical principles and mandates that reflect God’s character and active participation in the human drama, and the overarching message of the Bible concerning the poor.
- God’s Righteousness and Heart for Justice:
- In various passages in the Psalms, the psalmist presents God as the champion of the poor (Ps. 9:18; 10:14, 17; 12:5; 14:6; 22:24-46; 35:10; 40:17). In Psalm146:-7-9, the psalmist is persuaded that God’s care for the poor is explicit and his commitment to social justice and equality on behalf of the poor is limitless:
who executes justices for the oppressed,
who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the sojourners;
he upholds the widow and the fatherless…
“He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked” (Ps. 146:7-9).
- The psalmist is convinced that God despises those who oppress the poor. Divine help is promised to the most vulnerable and oppressed in society: “You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brothers or one of the sojourners who are in your land within your own towns. You shall give him his wages on the same day, before the sun set (for he is poor and counts on it), lest the cry against you to the Lord, and you be guilty of sin” (Deut. 24:14-15).
- Yahweh is very concerned about social and economic justice issues and therefore warns his people to treat the poor and the oppressed with dignity and fairness. In this passage, he sides himself with the poor by defending them against possible oppressors.
God’s compassion and empathy towards the poor is quite clear in the Bible:
“You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn… If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be like a moneylender to him, and you shall not exact interest from him” (Ex. 22:22, 25).
Hence, it is only correct for the God of Israel to reason, “For there will be no poor among you…Therefore, I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and the poor, in your land’” (Deut. 15:4, 11). These sets of divine commands prohibit oppressive actions toward the oppressed, the needy, and the poor. They reveal Yahweh’s high ethical sensibility in not only providing total justice for people easily misused—the sojourner, the widow and fatherless, the poor and oppressed—but also in calling for equality with and love toward them. The imperative is an urgent appeal to practice social justice and equality; it also a clarion “call for positive deeds toward the deprived”
- Care for the hungry and afflicted is a public demonstration of living out the justice of God:
“If you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame” (Isaiah 58:10-11).
- Jesus Calls Us to do Social Outreach:
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me”(Matthew 25:35-36).
- Care for the poor is a fundamental Christian practice and a public demonstration of the love of Christ:
“Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them” (Luke 7:22).
- The Imperative of Faith in Action:
“What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless” (James 2:14-17).
The philosophy of Jesus Center Community Church is rooted deeply in the theological reflections and theological praxis, as seen in preceding paragraphs. Jesus expects us to care and remember the poor and the oppressed; he also urges us to live out our faith in public, as he pronounces below:
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”
 Dunn cites the following references: ani (“poor, afflicted, humble”); dal (“crushed, oppressed”); ebyon (“in want, needy, poor”); anaw (“poor, afflicted, humble, meek); rosh (“in want, poor), Jesus Remembered, 517;
 Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 517.
 Robert H. Mounce, Matthew. New International Biblical Commentary (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1991), 103.
 Carter, Matthew and the Margins, 131; Longnecker, ibid.
 R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 166.
 Tamez, “Good News for the Poor,” 192.
 Longenecker, Remember the poor, 119. France writes, “The visible activity of Jesus thus conforms to the scriptural blueprints for God’s eschatological deliverance, whether in his own person or through an anointed Messiah…Isaiah 61:1 is about the good news to the poor and oppressed,” The Gospel of Matthew, 424.
 Malina and Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, 48.
Wolfgang Stegemann, “The Contextual Ethics of Jesus,” in Wolfgang Stegemann, Bruce J. Malina, and Gerd Theissen, eds., The Social Setting of Jesus and the Gospels (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002), 47.
 Alan F. Segal, “Some Aspects of Conversion and Identify Formation in the Christian Community of Paul’s Time,” in Richard A. Horsely, ed., Paul and Politics, 193.
 Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 518.
 Noam Zohar, “Jewish Perspective on Poverty,” in William A. Galston and Peter H. Hoffenberg, eds., Poverty and Morality: Religious and Secular Perspectives (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 205.
 Malina and Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, 48.
 Stegemann and Stegemann, The Jesus Movement, 64, 69.
 Ibi., 88.
 Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 518.
 Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989), 48; on the idea of honor and shape in the Mediterranean world, see the excellent work of David A. deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship and Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2000); on the social setting of Early Christianity, see the acclaimed study by Wayne A. Meeks, The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983).
 Longenecker, Remember the poor, 119.
 E. Stegemann and W. Stegemann, The Jesus Movement, 71.
 Ibid., 61.
 Malchow, Social Justice in the Hebrew Bible, 23.
 Bruce V. Malchow, Social Justice in the Hebrew Bible (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1997), 23.